gratitude

Sitting comfortably: Gratitude & couches

Last night, my friend Janet and I shared our dreams with one another.

I’m not talking about lofty dreams about life goals. No. I’m talking about couches. Yes. Couches. #MomGoals

“I just want a deep, rich blue couch. I love blue. Royal blue, you know, and textures. Lots of textures.” I think Janet might have begun drooling at this point. Pretty sure.

“I’ve always wanted an emerald-green couch, like dark emerald green… Oh! There! That color right behind you on that metal wheel. That’s it!” I, too, salivated a little while sipping my 8 p.m. cup of coffee while sitting on Janet’s floral sofa. The same sofa cushion Janet admittedly accidentally scorched on her wood stove that very week after one of her children peed atop it.

Yeah. Our lives are super glam.

While we dreamed about couches, we both recognized that we lacked gratitude for our current couches. Sure, the couches are worn. Our children have peed on the cushions. Do you know how to remove urine from couch cushions? It isn’t easy, and honestly, the smell never fully dissipates. And milk? Same. Then there’s the glue, the markers, the Sharpies, for the love of parenting.

But at the end of the day, we both own two couches. We can sit on the couches and even sleep on them if we must. The couches serve a purpose, right? Yep. So even though we dream about luxe versions, we’re okay with what we have, ultimately.

Sometimes it helps to sound off to a friend. And sometimes it helps to have a friend remind you that she wants your worn floral sofa! Here’s a video capturing some of our conversation from last night.


If the video is not playing click here.

Maybe you can relate if you’re a mom struggling to get by with your crusty old couch for a few more years while your kids continue to trample over it. Or maybe you can relate because you don’t own a couch. You don’t own a home. You don’t even have a place to call home, and you’re reading this blog on a computer in the public library, wondering why this pretentious woman would ever find room to complain about a crusty old couch at all.

That’s exactly why I’m writing this blog. Because I need to remember to maintain perspective. What I have really is enough. It’s not enough for me to accept that “it is what it is.” I must sink into my couch, smell its stench, and remember that it stinks because we’ve lived here. WE LIVE here. And thank God for our lives.

And then, only then, can I live in contentment and peace. In gratitude.

gratitude

For her curls

As I gear up to go back to work full-time this fall, transitioning from an adjunct instructor to a full-time English instructor, I find myself fluctuating between excitement and eager anticipation and anxiety and grief as I let go of this period of my life–the stay-at-home mom phase. No longer will Maggie’s cute babbling on the baby monitor serve as my alarm clock. One month from now, I’ll entrust my child to babysitters three days a week and rely on them to fill me in on the brightest moments of the day, to keep me posted on her milestones and her tantrums and her patterns of behavior. Soon Maggie and I will both have to adjust to a new schedule, a new routine, and a new balance of people in our lives.

With my fellow faculty members on the day I got the news that I'd been selected for the full-time position
With my fellow faculty members on the day I got the news that I’d been selected for the full-time position

Don’t get me wrong–I’m beyond thankful for my new job. If you missed my post about my new job, reading that will certainly clarify any confusion about my feelings about that. For years, I didn’t even think I’d ever have the opportunity to go to graduate school; a few years ago, my husband (boyfriend at the time) encouraged me to pursue my passion for English language and literature, regardless of the practicality of it all… talk about winning me over! I enrolled in a Master’s program a few weeks later, and I’ve never regretted that decision. I feel that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing with my life right now;  it’s a wonderful feeling, and a great way to serve God and other people.

Still, I’m a mom, and I’m a mom who wears her heart on her sleeve sometimes. I’ll be the first to admit that it took me an entire year’s worth of prayer and meditation before I felt absolute peace about the decision to go back to work full-time at this point in my daughter’s life. But it does feel like the right time. If there’s anything God has repeatedly taught me, through practical experience, it’s that He is always right on time (if I yield to His will and don’t push and shove and insist on my own). There’s something easy and beautiful about letting God make things happen.

I would not trade the past 20 months of time I’ve spent at home with my daughter for anything; no amount of money and no thrill or prestige would entice me to reconsider how I’ve spent this period of time.

IMG_3763This morning Maggie and I took a walk down our quiet country road, admiring the bright morning sun reflecting off the surface of nearly every dew-covered leaf in the woods. We played with bubbles in the backyard. Every time Maggie popped a bubble, she excitedly exclaimed, “I gots!” Maggie played in her sandbox, silently scooping and shoveling sand into her little bucket over and over again, occasionally turning to glance at me sitting nearby, maybe to ensure that I was still watching her. The light reflected off her wild auburn curls. I found myself watching nothing but her hair, mesmerized by the light in her curls, the sun spinning around and twisting every time she turned and picked up her scoop and set it down again.

What is that worth, I wondered. What is this moment worth to me?

Everything. There’s nothing anyone could pay me to trade me for this moment, and nothing I’d exchange for the life I have lived with my daughter for the past 20 months.

I know that I haven’t wasted my time because I have chosen to be where my hands are; when I make that choice, I’m never wasting my time.

 

gratitude

We plan. God laughs.

pauseOur plans for the entire weekend fell apart.

A workshop I planned on hosting had to be rescheduled due to dangerous weather conditions. I felt so disappointed. I’d been looking forward to the chance to see old friends and benefit from the shared experience, strength, and hope during the workshop. I was elated that my new friends would have the chance to meet my old friends, too. But since safety was prioritized over excitement (wisely so), we cancelled the night before. At the last minute, I found myself frantically calling people who were planning to attend, letting them know about the cancellation and that the workshop would be rescheduled. In the hubbub of cancelling plans, I forgot to cancel our restaurant reservation and later apologized profusely to the woman who called to be sure they had the right date on their calendar.

The next day, we had plans to attend my sister’s 30th birthday celebration. I made some fabulous hummus and planned on picking up some veggies to go along with it. I picked out a yellow sundress for my baby to wear and my new shirt and khaki pants for myself. I even ensured I’d have plenty of time to bathe and genuinely fix my hair–and that’s rare these days, folks.

But Sunday morning, my niece fell victim to a stomach virus, and vomit was the cancellation culprit. My little sister changed her plans and went on a mini road trip instead. I was bummed that I wouldn’t get to celebrate her birthday with her and sad that I wouldn’t get to spend time with the rest of my family, either, especially on such a beautiful day.

My mentor reminded me over the course of the weekend that, “We plan. God laughs.”

This might be the theme of my life.

I am anal to the nth degree when it comes to planning. I do not like last-minute changes. I certainly do not like guests showing up unannounced. I want to know the date, time, and menu for holiday gatherings at least one month in advance, and preferably two. When I managed the career services department at my alma mater, I created a year-long to-do list, month by month, and my former administrative assistant still uses it to this day to keep herself and others on task and working ahead to avoid scrambling and last-minute chaos.

God knows all of this about me. And He certainly is amused by my inability to give in, flex my schedule, and let go of my plans. I believe this is why He has repeatedly put me in situations that require flexibility, adaptability, and total lack of control. I have made progress. But I’m still a planner by nature.

This weekend, I learned that there are always gifts to be discovered when plans go awry.

Our daughter napping during the rain this weekend
Our daughter napping during the rain this weekend

As my husband, daughter, and I waited for any stragglers who might show up at the cancelled workshop, I brewed a pot of coffee and enjoyed a doughnut we picked up on our way. A friend showed up to post a cancellation notice on the door, handmade by his daughter (and totally adorable). Two of his beautiful and rambunctious daughters accompanied him, and they had the chance to meet our baby and hold her and squish her cheeks for a while. As I nursed my baby in the next room, I heard through the old, thin walls my husband chatting with my friend, discussing landscaping and offering help to one another. The heavy downpour sounded light, steady, and calming to me as I sat right next to a large window, watching the rain cascade onto the shrubs, sipping a hot cup of coffee as my daughter nursed her way to sleep.

Sunday, after the birthday party was cancelled, I found myself with an entire day that required no plans, no schedule, and no need to wear real clothes. So I stayed in my comfy pajamas, wrote my teaching philosophy in preparation for a job interview, and took a much-needed nap that afternoon while my daughter did the same.

Sunset on the porch with my baby
Sunset on the porch with my baby

As I watched the sunset with her on our rickety old porch later that evening, I thanked God for the changes in our plans. I had needed time to breathe, time to write, and time to rest. I just didn’t know it because I hadn’t stopped moving long enough to admit to myself how totally exhausted I felt.

I plan. And sometimes God laughs.

This weekend, I think He just shook His head, orchestrated changes, and smiled as He watched me savor my coffee, gaze at my sleeping baby, cover myself with three blankets at three o’clock in the afternoon, and admire the damp, green life light up in our yard as the sun melted over it.

 

 

gratitude

Things never change

Gratitude rarely actually changes things.

Not in my life, anyway. Things stay the same. Circumstances come and go, as all circumstances do.

My big fam, 2012. Photo by Phoopla Photography
My big fam, 2012. Photo by Phoopla Photography

My family members who irk me continue to irk me. The one who never says “I love you” may never say “I love you.” My sisters will probably never agree with my lifestyle choices. I will probably never agree with all of theirs. My mom and mother-in-law will probably always dish out unsolicited advice, despite multiple attempts to curb this behavior.

The people I know and people I love who are addicts may or may not get sober. If they do get sober, they might or might not stay sober. They may never accept that their lives are unmanageable. They may never find serenity or the courage to change the things they can.

The turds in my life will probably always be turds. When I worked for a miserable woman I affectionately referred to as Satan, my writing a daily gratitude list didn’t change her attitude one bit. She did not become more kind or human. She might still be a turd to this day.

The list of things that stay the same, get worse, or may never change is endless. It overwhelms me if I let it.

Thankfully, I don’t have to. At the advice of my mentor, I began writing a daily gratitude list about five years ago. Since then, the practice of gratitude has morphed me into a more gracious, loving, and appreciative person. It’s restored a sense of wonder and adoration in my heart. It hasn’t changed my life. It has changed ME.

This morning, for example, my baby girl woke up at 5:15 a.m. Her normal wake time is about 7 a.m., and sometimes later. She also happened to fight sleep for quite some time last night. That, coupled with some annoying health issues, resulted in this mama getting about five hours of sleep in comparison to her usual 7 or 8.

As I rolled over to look at the clock while listening to my daughter coo over the monitor, I groaned. I did not want to move. I did not want to get up and make the doughnuts. I wanted someone else to nurse my baby. I wanted breakfast in bed with extra shots of espresso, please.

But I couldn’t change the fact that my baby woke up early. I can’t change the fact that she fought sleep last night, either.

All I can change is me, and sometimes, that’s a struggle, too.

Switching my attitude from one of contempt, grumbling, negativity, self-pity, and cynicism to one of gratitude almost always changes me. It changes the way I view those things that I can do nothing about.

Yes, my daughter woke up early and went to bed late. Yes, this caused me to get way too little sleep.

The three of us, May 2013
The three of us, May 2013

But she woke up this morning.

She is alive.

She suffered no ill effects from any of the annoying symptoms I faced during pregnancy. She recovered like a champ from a somewhat traumatic delivery with no side effects. She has slept in her own crib since she was two weeks old, and has slept through the night since she was about six weeks old. She smiles. She eats well and has no digestive problems. She is, as I often pray, healthy from the top of her head to the bottom of her toes. She laughs and tries to talk to me and touches my face and lights up my world every single day.

After thanking God aloud for these gifts while nursing my daughter in a semi-conscious state, I realized that between 6:15 and 6:20 a.m. this morning, nothing changed.

But I did.

My attitude switched gears.

It works every time, if I work it.

 

gratitude

Mama DID

My mom had a rough go of it growing up. I won’t share details, because they are my mom’s to share, but trust me.

The four of us the year my parents divorced
The four of us the year my parents divorced

Despite the circumstances of her childhood, my mom chose to have four daughters, all of us about two years apart. When she found herself a single mom with four children under the age of 7, she didn’t give up or go nuts or give us away. She just kept going.

And she didn’t sit on her laurels, remaining content with never achieving any of her goals or not being able to provide for her family. She went back to college, earned her degree, and relocated our family to Arkansas after marrying my stepdad.

I’ve been writing a series of blog posts about my mom whenever the mood strikes me for a few years now. You can find them on my personal blog. The title of the series is “Mama Said.” Anyone who knows my mom knows that she has a number of infamous sayings and phrases she repeats–life slogans, if you will–regarding how to clean, how to talk, how to relate to others. How to live.

But it’s not what “Mama says” that causes me to admire her.

It’s what she does.

She perseveres through hardship. She continually grows as a child of God. She worships freely. She takes good care of her body, mind, and spirit. She forgives those who certainly do not deserve forgiveness. She goes out of her way to give to those in need. She excels in her career. She communes with nature and finds beauty in the small things.

My mom with my baby shower gift, October 2012
My mom with my baby shower gift, October 2012

I’ve noticed that in the past few years, childhood friends of mine have made comments about my mom that have surprised me.

“I still make the bunny prints out of construction paper because of your mom.”

“I started a chore chart because of your mom.”

“Your mom remembered that I would not have my own mom to tell me ‘happy Mother’s Day’ and sent a card this year.”

The young mothers who have made these comments remind me of my mom. They didn’t all have the greatest maternal role models in their homes, but they found inspiration in the way my mom cared for our family. And now, as a result, their children are receiving love, constant care, and creative discipline :).

And so is mine.

With my mom and Maggie, February 2013
With my mom and Margaret Jacqueline, February 2013

Not because of what she said to me growing up, but because of what she did, I have a huge repertoire of tricks, tools, and tips to fall back on as a mom. I don’t have doubts about how to assure my daughter that she’s beautiful, special, divinely created, and infinitely blessed. I don’t worry about my ability to make choices that will benefit her, put her well-being first, and help her grow. I have less anxiety about how to handle the ups and downs and growing pains of parenting.

I may have to Google images of rashes. I might read books on how to be a great parent and glean insights. I often talk to other young mothers facing similar issues when I need a second opinion.

But I know one thing for sure.

I know how to love.

Thank you, Mom.

gratitude

I never thought I wanted children.

* Big thanks to my best friend, MeLissa Horseman, for today’s post. She may have never wanted children, but she’s become one of the best moms I know.*

I never thought I wanted children. I barely thought I wanted to get married, let alone bring kids into the mix. This was a definite sore subject between me and my future husband when we were dating. He wanted a whole football team.

One day after dating for about a year and a half, I randomly told him that I would CONSIDER having children some day. He was shocked by my announcement, and we were engaged a couple of months later (must have been just what he was waiting for). After six years of marriage, a move halfway across the United States, and the passing of my mother when I was 25, and she was just 47, after we recently had the opportunity to begin repairing our very broken relationship, I told my husband we should start this family thing.

Dailen and Lexa, 2013
Dailen and Lexa, 2013

At that point, I don’t think I was fully behind the idea but I felt something was missing or that I needed to start a new phase of my life. It took almost a year and half to get pregnant, and nine months thereafter, we had our son. I had an overall good pregnancy and delivery. Some people know after they have their first child that they are content and happy with that one and only child. I feel that is an awesome and wonderful decision they have made. Me, personally, a few weeks after having my son, I just knew I wanted more. I was overwhelmed with emotion at the miracle of life and how much love I had for this tiny human. I could hardly wait for round two.

My husband was ecstatic with my enthusiasm to have another child so quickly. When my son turned one year-old, we started trying again and got pregnant right away with our daughter. Through no fault of her own, we endured some very stressful times with her as a baby. We dealt with seven months of colic. She cried all the time, at all hours, and nothing calmed her. Not riding in the car, sitting atop the running dryer, rocking her, gas drops, pacifier, Tylenol, even putting a bit of Jack Daniels in her milk (per my grandma’s suggestion). She would not ‘cry herself to sleep’. She could cry for hours, and I felt so bad for my miserable little girl. I spent my nights in a recliner with her lying on my chest because it was the only way I would get an hour or two of sleep.

My husband began to hate her. (No worries–she is wrapped around his finger now for sure–or as she would say, her thumb.) I would not leave her alone with him because I would come home to find him playing video games downstairs while she was crying upstairs because he didn’t want anything to do with her. It caused a lot of tension in our marriage that took a lot of time to work through. I don’t say all this to elicit sympathy or make my situation out to be worse than anyone else’s, only to illustrate how difficult that time was for us and that my husband went from wanting a football team of kids to being adamant about having no more. He closed that book.

I was not as convinced. As stressful as it was, I loved my little miracle and was protective and even probably defensive of her and still wanted the opportunity to have another child. She got over her troubled early months and is now a cute firecracker, four year-old who loves to tilt her head and smile at her daddy until he laughs and wraps her in a big loving hug. After she turned three, my husband brought up the subject of having another child.

This time I was the one who was shocked. I had finally accepted that we were done. Our car was too small to physically fit a third child. Our two kids were somewhat self-sufficient; no diapers, can dress themselves, can express their needs and wants. We were in a routine, and it was working for us, and I didn’t want to give that up. And, I could not emotionally go through another situation similar to my daughter’s (although during that time I couldn’t imagine not having more kids either).

After much thought and prayer, we felt God gave us the go ahead to have another child. Our son or daughter will be born sometime this May. My son is six and my daughter is four and a half. This pregnancy has been much more difficult in many different ways, and I am certain it will be my last, so I have moments of being very sad knowing it will be the last time I feel a baby kick or have the hiccups inside me, the last time I will hold my very own newborn child, the last time I can gain weight without too much guilt :).

The Horseman family, 2013
The Horseman family, 2013

But I am so thankful for the blessing to be able to carry another child and bring a life into this world that God so lovingly created. I am blessed to have two beautiful children with very different personalities who teach me something new all the time. They remind me to keep my promises (because they remember when I have told them I would do something!). They remind me to relax and have some fun. Because of them my personal relationship with God has grown and my prayer life deepened. I can’t wait to see what this third child has to teach and show me.

I worked until my daughter was over two years old. Then I was laid off, and we took it as a blessing in disguise, or maybe it was really in plain sight. After much rearranging and rebudgetting, I have been able to stay home full-time since then. I was talking to my dad a couple of months ago. He called and asked what I was doing. I said ‘coloring pictures with your granddaughter and getting ready to make lunch’. He kind of chuckled. I asked what was so amusing. He said he never would have pictured that 10 years ago.

He’s right. I never thought I would want kids. I definitely never thought being a stay-at-home mom was for me. But it has worked out the way it was supposed to. Things are not picture perfect. I don’t feel I am the best mommy most days. There are days I go to bed feeling like all I did was yell at them all day or tell them ‘just give me another minute to do this or that’ and never got around to what they needed or wanted. There are days when one will ask me why I was so upset with them that day or one will yell that I am a mean mommy. But when my son gets up one more time from bed at night to give me a kiss on the cheek and say ‘I love you mom’; or my daughter climbs up into my lap and asks 20 random questions, and by the 21st I want to say WHAT NOW?, and she says ‘I want to be a mommy like you when I grow up’, I melt and I’m overwhelmed with awe about how much love I have for them and am so thankful I did not miss out on this experience.

gratitude · photography

Day 3–The delicate dance

*I’ve known Jessica since college, and I feel privileged to have watched her evolve into who she is today. Our journeys aren’t identical, but I relate to much of her story. Check out her blog!*

Gratitude and love. Topics that seem to go hand in hand with lines blurred as to where one ends and another begins. Because, indeed, if you have ever been loved, well, the gratitude of being a recipient of such is a natural overflow.

When Bethany asked me write for this blog I immediately said yes. And then, moments later, regretted it. Don’t get me wrong. I have much to be grateful for. But currently, I’m in a season of life where grief overshadows most my gratefulness. And that’s the funny thing about love. It can often bring with it a two-edged sword bearing pain and piercing joy. How the two can exist in delicate harmony is something I’m learning day by day.

Our kids with Paige, spring 2010
Our kids with Paige, spring 2010

Paige was a 15 year old high school freshman when we met just 5 short years ago. Over the course of our children’s lives, she became more than just a teenager in our Sunday school class, she became family. In July, for reasons still unexplained, she died. The pain and grief that has been heaped upon my family by her death has nearly been crushing.

However, she is worth it.

The way she loved our family, the way she loved our children, the way she loved me has made every second of our grief worth it. And if I could go back in time five years and choose to love her all over again, I would.

This girl, this friend, who in my opinion left this world much too soon, left her mark on our family. My spunky, caring, eight year old daughter is forever changed because of the way Paige loved her. She wears funky hats, loves endlessly, serves others willingly and knows that it’s okay sometimes to act a little silly. All of those things because Paige did the same with her and now, she’s forever changed.

My sweet, tender, six year old son, who still cries weekly because he so desperately misses Paige, is forever changed. Just like Paige, he loves giraffes, making up silly songs, listening to music on his iPod and worshiping God no matter who is watching. He watched her love those things, and it has forever changed him.

My enthusiastic, laughter inducing six year old daughter dotes over babies, loves them fiercely, isn’t afraid to change a dirty diaper, act silly enough to illicit a laugh and is perfectly fine with carrying a younger sister around on her hip as long as she desires. All because she saw Paige do the same with her and with every child Paige came in contact with. Now my six year old daughter is forever changed.

I could keep going but the point is, Paige loved us well and we love her deeply. She changed us. All of us. Somehow, a 20 year old girl attached herself to our family and caused us to redefine why, how and who we love.

Paige with some of our kids, April 2012
Paige with some of our kids, April 2012

We love not because she is blood. We love not because she has the title of family. We love not because it is easy or convenient or warm and fuzzy. In fact, the last six months, since her death, those last adjectives have been the hardest to swallow.

Yet, we are so very grateful. Grateful for her. Grateful that God allowed us five short, love filled years with her. Grateful that we have memory upon memory of her time with us. Memories of vacations and sleepovers and road trips. We are grateful that she loved us richly, and we loved her wholly.

The pain of losing her has pierced us deeply while the joy of who she remains to be in our family abounds. I’ve held my children as they cried tears and wailed sobs because they miss their friend so very much. I’ve watched them dance and laugh and sing songs that she taught them and see the joy in their smiles and the pain in their eyes.

It’s a funny thing, this kind of gratitude. It’s hard to describe how grief, joy, love, gratitude and sorrow can combine into one smooth wave of emotion that pours itself into every facet of your life. The dance around, these pairs of love and sorrow, gratitude and grief. And if I’ve learned anything from all of this, it is that one can exist and even thrive in face of the other. A year ago, I would have never thought that possible. Now, I’m so thankful for the way the two dance within my heart. Because if you take out even one of the two then you take Paige and her love from our lives, and that is something I’m so grateful that we will never have to do.

 

Jessica also blogs over at http://themakingofmom.blogspot.com.